Russian authorities have welcomed a decision by the administration of US President Joe Biden to issue waivers against any further sanctions for the eponymous operator of the politically sensitive Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline project in the Baltic Sea and its chief executive, Matthias Warnig.
Nord Stream 2 has already been hit with sanctions from Washington, which has long threatened further measures, as the US views the Gazprom-led project as a threat to European energy security.
A host of Russian politicians, companies and individual remain under sanctions from the US and elsewhere over the 2014 annexation of the Crimean Peninsula from Ukraine.
Speaking on a call with Russian media on Thursday, Dmitry Peskov, the spokesman for Russian President Vladimir Putin, said the decision “does not create additional obstacles that the project will have to overcome” as it moves towards completion.
“Russia and its international partners in the project have a strong belief that the project should not be under pressure from third-party countries. Its speedy completion is in the interests of our countries and [European] countries that participate in it,” Peskov said.
However, Peskov refused to comment on Biden’s decision to place nine Russian private and state-owned vessels — including pipelay vessel Akademik Chersky — onto the list of entities to be sanctioned under the Protecting Europe’s Energy Security Act.
Chersky — together with already sanctioned barge Fortuna — is currently laying the remaining unbuilt offshore segments of the gas pipeline in Danish waters, with pipelay work on two legs of the pipeline expected to be finished before the end of September.
Biden’s decision, together with the waivers, has been detailed in a report that the administration presented to US Congress on Wednesday.
'A gift to Putin'
The report, the contents of which were partially communicated to the media before submission, immediately drew bi-partisan criticism in Congress.
Democratic senator Bob Menendez, who is a chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said he is “opposed to the decision” on granting waivers from sanctions for the Swiss-registered project operator and German national Warnig, a former spy at the Stasi secret service in now defunct German Democratic Republic.
“I fail to see how the decision will advance US efforts to counter Russian aggression in Europe. It has created uncertainty in many corners of Europe,” Menendez said.
Republican Senator Jim Risch said: “This move contradicts everything that President Biden and [US State Secretary Anthony] Blinken have previously said about Nord Stream 2’s malign influence.
“It is a gift to Putin that will only weaken the US leverage in the lead up to the impending Biden-Putin summit. The administration is prioritising perceived German and Russian interests over those of our allies in Central, Eastern, and Northern Europe,” Risch wrote.
The US State Department said in a statement: "Our opposition to the Nord Stream 2 pipeline is unwavering. We will continue to oppose the completion of this project."
Political observers in Moscow said that the Biden’s waivers may indicate his intention to achieve a compromise with Putin on issues that have spoiled relations between the two countries, rather than deepen any existing poor relations.
Major topics are Russia's involvement in Ukraine and other Eastern European countries, the Kremlin’s crackdown on freedom of speech and dissent at home and Russian efforts to build its military forces and arsenal.